My colleague Melody Lauer posted an interesting question on Facebook.
What malfunction to shot ratio would you accept on a carry gun (without said malfunctions being purposefully induced)?
Since this had been a topic of conversation with another colleague only a few days before, I posted the answer we both agreed on.
“How many magazines come with the gun? … It needs to be 100% reliable for the number of rounds in the magazine(s) that come with it or how many a person carries, assuming the person even bought a spare magazine. More than that is superfluous. For many autoloaders now that means one magazine plus the round in the chamber.
The multiple thousand round reliability tests that the ‘cognoscenti’ are in love with are meaningless except in a very narrow context. The desire for those kind of tests is generated by training junkies who want to make it through 2-5 day 1500+ round training classes without having a single malfunction. Their applicability in the real world of peoples’ lives is nil.”
I was unsurprised when many folks responded, in generally polite ways, that I was crazy. Most of the cognoscenti want to run at least 1,000 rounds through a carry gun before they ‘trust’ it. My comment relating to ‘Arbitrary Reliability Assessments’ was pure heresy. There was also a considerable amount of mathematical ‘logic’ in the discussion that I found obtuse. For instance, if a gun could be expected to have 5 malfunctions out of 1,000 rounds, it could also be expected to have 1 malfunction per magazine. That was difficult for me to understand but I was told that I just don’t understand math and statistics. If I’m going to have one malfunction per magazine, I’ll just keep carrying a revolver.
Let’s think about the issue in some depth. My questions are:
- 1,000 rounds of what kind of ammo?
- Under what conditions?
- With which magazines?
- With which guns?
- Number 1 carry gun?
- Backup Gun?
- Spare carry gun?
Addressing those questions in order brings some other thoughts to mind.
- Ball or duty ammo? Often, guns shoot well with some ammo and other ammo, not so much. Because of that fact, running 1,000 rounds of ball through a gun and then a box of duty ammo through it doesn’t seem to me to accomplish any more than shooting the box of duty ammo alone. So, in the case of a Glock 19, 15 times 3 plus 1 = 46 rounds. Three magazines for those who like to carry two spares. That leaves 4 rounds out of a box. Always save the last one for yourself. Some folks are such terrible shots they better save two.
- Under what conditions? Unlike wheelguns, autoloaders are subject to the vagaries of the person/machine interface. That’s largely the crux of the reliability question.
- Is the 1,000 rounds to be shot in casual range shooting with no pressure? I can’t count the number of people shooting IDPA matches who have said to me “I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.” Even small amounts of stress can have an effect on how the shooter holds and fires the gun. Perhaps it would be a good idea to involve at least some significant percentage of the test under conditions that might induce a malfunction, such as a State or Area Championship? Yeah but shooting competition will get you ‘killed on the streetz.’ Or maybe all 1,000 rounds should be shot under extreme pressure, such as the first two to three days at the elite Rogers Shooting School?
- Is the 1,000 rounds going to be shot with both hands? One of the things I noticed at Rogers was how many more malfunctions occurred during one handed shooting. Should the 1,000 rounds involve some shooting with Dominant hand only? How about the Support hand only?
- Since ‘everyone starts moving after the first shot,’ how much of the 1,000 rounds is going to be shot while shooting on the move? It’s probably a good idea to shoot some Box Drills and Figure 8s as part of the testing process. Perhaps including a 50/25/25 percent mix of Freestyle/Dominant hand only/Support hand only during at least half of that 1,000 rounds should be the protocol.
- With which magazines?
- Magazines are often the weakest link in the reliability of any autoloader. Doing a reliability test with ‘training’ magazines and then switching to magazines ‘reserved’ for carry defeats the entire purpose of the test. It’s completely non sequitur.
- But if a person only has three ‘carry’ magazines, that means the test may involve dumping them on the ground somewhere around 20 times apiece. How comfortable are you with those magazines after they’ve been beaten up a bit? You tell me, it’s your decision.
- Which guns to test?
- How many people who carry a Backup Gun run the 1,000 rounds through it? Especially for those using small autoloaders such as an LCP, my guess is almost none. If you don’t run your Backup through the high round count protocol, do you still trust your life to it? If so, why is the main pistol any different?
- I’m a firm believer that anyone who carries a pistol should have a spare. Regardless of the circumstances of a shooting, the police will take the pistol as evidence. If you don’t have a spare, preferably identical to your carry gun, then you’re going to have to go buy one and run it through the testing protocol before you can ‘trust it.’ Back to Square One.
I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.
There are other considerations such as the effects of and on weapon mounted lights, lasers, or red dot sights, but that’s gilding the lily perhaps.
For those who only have one gun, such as the great majority of gun owners, how long is it going to take to conduct this 1,000 round test? Even at 100 rounds a week, the test will take the better part of three months to conduct. In the meantime, how do you feel about the gun? Do you want to have that “I’m still not sure I trust this piece” feeling in the back of your head for three months? How will that affect the person/machine interface?
In the end, if shooting 1,000 rounds before you ‘trust’ the gun makes you feel better, then go for it. But if you don’t design and follow a protocol that really relates to how you’re likely to use the gun in a situation where you have to protect yourself or your loved ones, the whole exercise is just an excuse to go shooting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In the previous installment, I mentioned that shooters have a tendency to ‘walk’ their rounds into the center of the target. The reason for this is that the most missed shot in shooting is the very first shot. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, commented about this in his book The Wilderness Hunter, published in 1893.
No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.
To TR’s comment, I would add ‘and mashing the trigger’ after “carelessness of aim.”
The second most missed shot in shooting is the shot immediately after clearing a stoppage. Stoppage refers to either a malfunction or a reload. As put in the military, “any unintentional interruption in the cycle of operation.”
Both of these shots are missed so often because they represent a transition point from using a complex motor skill (combination of gross and fine) to a fine motor skill. Unless well practiced, that transition is a difficult one to perform well.
Common shooting tasks requiring complex motor skills are:
- presentation from ready or pickup,
- draw from a holster, or
- stoppage clearance.
Those three tasks require the shooter to engage, both concurrently and consecutively, both large muscle groups such as the biceps, triceps, trapezius, etc. in broad movement (gross motor skill) and the tendons of the hands in small movements (fine motor skill). Immediately following the complex motor skill comes the requirement to perform the fine motor skill of pressing the trigger smoothly.
There is also a series of visual transitions that must take place. The shooter initially starts with an infinity level focus on the target and then must bring the focus inward to index the pistol onto the target. More experienced shooters may recognize this step as the inverse of ‘Sight Picture’ as classically taught. Finally, the shooter must quickly transition from a coarse (soft) index focus on the outline of the pistol to a reading distance fine focus on the front sight itself.
When a stoppage occurs, the shooter will, or at least should, bring the pistol closer to the body to perform the stoppage clearance. Most people cannot clearly focus at this distance, so the eyes will shift to a soft focus, either on the pistol, the target, or somewhere in between. Once the stoppage has been cleared, the shooter must shift focus to infinity to reacquire the target. The coarse index of the pistol onto the target comes next. And as a final focus point, the shooter must once again shift to a reading distance fine focus to reacquire the front sight and achieve both a good sight alignment and sight picture.
If this sounds like a complex series of fast breaking events, that’s because it is. Especially for those whose eyes began to lose their ability to accommodate (quickly change focal distance) in their 40’s (i.e., all of us), it’s a difficult series of visual focus events.
The following is a drill that accomplishes two things.
- It provides a baseline measurement of how well a shooter can perform the complex series of tasks involved in making a good hit with the first shot, including a distance component.
- The drill itself is a very structured exercise that can be done on a regular basis to improve the shooter’s ability to perform that set of tasks.
Basic level shooters can use a larger target, such as a B-27 or a Q, and count their hits in the largest ring to establish a baseline. Intermediate level shooters can use the actual scoring values of a target such as a B-27 or BT-5 as their performance standard. Advanced shooters can use a smaller target, such as the NRA B-8, as a very difficult criterion.
The drill is untimed. The object is to subconsciously ingrain the skills necessary to make the hits. Some shooters may find value in talking themselves through the tasks required as they are shooting the drill. For instance, the visual task sequence might be described as:
- Target focus
- Pistol index focus
- Front sight focus
Sequence 1 (10 rounds) – 3 yards
Start with the handgun loaded with five rounds only. Shooting is done with both hands. Starting position is aimed at the floor below the target (Low Ready), below where a subject’s feet would be. The trigger finger is consciously off and above the trigger. Have a spare magazine loaded with 5 rounds available. Revolver shooters use a speedloader, speed strip, or loose rounds.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 1 shot at the center of target. Follow through for one second, call your shot, and then return to low ready. Decock, if your pistol has a decocker.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 2 shots at the center of target. Follow through for one second, call your shots, and then return to low ready. Decock.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 3 shots at the center of target. Note that after two shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Call those two shots, reload, and fire the third shot. Follow through for one second, call the third shot, and then return to low ready. Decock.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 4 shots at the center of target. After the shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Call your shots and holster the pistol or place it on the bench.
Bring your target back and record how many hits you made in the body scoring area. You can write this on the target or a separate piece of paper. Use this format: 3/X, 3 being the distance and X being the number of hits. Intermediate and Advanced shooters record the actual value of your hits; maximum value being 50. Cover all the hits with masking tape or pasters.
Sequence 2 (10 rounds) – 5 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 but with the target at 5 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 3 (10 rounds) – 7 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 7 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 4 (10 rounds) – 10 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 10 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 5 (10 rounds) – 15 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 15 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
At the end of the drill, your record should look something like this.
Now you’ve established a baseline for how well you can shoot a specific series of tasks. Over time, shooting this drill and other drills should allow you to increase your scores at every distance. ‘Getting better’ is a process not a performance.
As many of you know, I’m currently working on my second set of doing 1,000 consecutive days of dryfire practice. The first set was done during 2000-2002. This second set started on March 3, 2014 and the 1,000 days will be finished on November 27, 2016, during the week after Thanksgiving.
The original inspiration came from a friend who was working on his Yoga instructor certification. His final requirement to complete his certification was to do 1,000 days straight of meditation. This represented true dedication to excellence in my mind. Being a strong believer in the value of dryfire, I decided to make the same commitment to dryfire and immediately started my own 1,000 Days program. Just as with his meditations, it doesn’t have to be any particular drill or set of drills. Rather, it’s the commitment to do dryfire each and every day, without fail, for 1000 straight days. If I missed a day, I had to start again at the beginning.
Reflecting back on both times I’ve done the 1,000 Days, I have to say they were different experiences and I achieved different things from them. This isn’t surprising, given that they started 14 years apart and a lot went on between them.
The first time was largely a mechanical regimen devoted to further development of my skill level at seeing the sights quickly and pressing the trigger smoothly. Those two skills are fundamental to being more than a mediocre shooter. Unfortunately, shooters who insist on doing only livefire practice rarely learn them well. Recoil masks too many flaws in technique, especially when performance measurement, the third key fundamental, is omitted. Dryfire provides a superior method for learning those key fundamentals.
There is no doubt in my mind that doing the 1,000 Days was instrumental in the successes I had in my competitive shooting career at that time. It was also one of the things that led to my becoming the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School because dryfire is an integral part of the School’s program.
The second run of 1,000 Days had a broader conceptual focus than the first. In between the two runs, I had individually read and created two databases of Armed Citizen and Officer Involved Incidents. Combined, they total over 7,000 incidents. This gave the second run a different perspective on the skills, tactics, and techniques that contributed to success or failure in the context of personal protection.
In addition, I did extensive research about:
- the decision-making process
- instructional design
- performance measurement
- incident analysis
- wargaming and decision exercises
- proxemics, and
- human communication and interaction
These all contributed to my perception of what and how to practice, both dryfire and livefire. Some of the skills I practiced the first time remained important while others became either less significant or even irrelevant.
As I approach the end of the second 1,000 Days, several questions that hadn’t occurred to me the first time arose.
What is the focus of the next 1,000 Days?
Is 1,000 Days necessary?
Am I limited to only one focal point?
Does my focus have even have to relate to personal protection?
In answer to the last two questions, I resolved to get back on a daily blood pressure monitoring scheme, which I’ve neglected for a while. Since I don’t care much for apps and found the array of paper based products unsatisfactory, I developed my own blood pressure diary. It’s a printable design that’s more compact and organized than the other products available and gives me a better basis for discussions with my cardiologist. For those who are interested, it’s available here.
More in Part II.